The Lady Lions were just handed one huge opportunity to prove if, in fact, they are "back," as both the media and coaches voted Penn State the pre-season favorite to win the 2011-12 Big Ten Women's Basketball title. Not only that, but Penn State will also feature the pre-season Big Ten player of the year, junior Alex Bentley. From the PSU release:
"Bentley, who shares the coaches' Preseason Player of the Year with Ohio State's Samantha Prahalis, became the 11th different Lady Lion to garner All-Big Ten first team honors last season after finishing in the Top 15 in the Big Ten in scoring (12th/14.4), assists (2nd/5.0), field goal percentage (14th/.446), free throw percentage (11th/.798) and assist-to-turnover ratio (4th/1.7). Bentley was named to the Big Ten All-Tournament team after averaging 15.3 points, 3.3 assists and 3.0 steals in three tourney contests. Additionally, the Indianapolis native registered seven 20-point games, including a pair of 20-point performances in the NCAA Tournament."
I'll have a Lady Lions primer next week. The first game of the season is an exhibition against Bloomsburg on Nov. 5. But...
It's likely time to start paying attention once again to this Penn State team. For years, it was one of the flagship programs in Happy Valley, even more so when the football team was mired in the "Dark Years" earlier this century. The Lady Lions were reaching the deep rounds of the NCAA tournament with regularity. Big Ten titles were always within reach.
The program went through a bad transition period following Rene Portland's ouster. Incoming head coach Coquese Washington was put in a bad situation, having to rebuild a program that should never have been down to begin with. Four years later, the Lady Lions have improved from two losing seasons to start off Washington's tenure to finish second in the Big Ten this past season, including a berth in the Big Ten title game.
This season is a whole new ball game for Penn State. Expectations are back to where they were at the height of the Lady Lions' decades of success. Can Penn State handle the pressure? Will the Lady Lions rise to the occasion? Or is this just the product of premature hype for a team that finally rose from the ashes last season?
We will begin to find the answers to those questions starting next weekend.